LONDON (Al-Jazeera) - Soldiers from the U.S., Indonesia and Australia joined a live-fire drill on Friday, part of annual joint combat exercises on Sumatra island amid growing Chinese maritime activity in the Indo-Pacific region.
A total of more than 5,000 personnel from the U.S., Indonesia, Australia, Japan and Singapore are participating in this year’s Super Garuda Shield exercises, making them the largest since they began in 2009.
The expanded drills are seen by China as a threat. Chinese state media have accused the U.S. of building an Indo-Pacific alliance similar to NATO to limit China’s growing military and diplomatic influence in the region.
The United Kingdom, Canada, France, India, Malaysia, South Korea, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and East Timor also sent observers to the exercises, which began early this month.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific commander, Adm. John C. Aquilino, said the 14 nations involved in the training are signaling their stronger ties.
Indonesia and China enjoy generally positive ties, but Jakarta has expressed concern about what it alleges as Chinese encroachment in its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
Despite its official position as a non-claimant state in the contested South China Sea, Indonesia has been “dragged along” in the territorial disputes.
Indonesia sees the current exercises with the U.S. as a deterrent in defense of the Natuna Islands, while for Washington, the drills are part of efforts to forge a united front against.